Google: When Public Authorities are allowed to buy bias (by SEO)


Photo of Mikal Hertig

Mikael Hertig, M of Sc. Pol

Google should be seen as disqualified. If Google was publicly driven the behavior could be seen as strictly and generally abuse of power. Maybe the idea of one great truth is an illusion. But truth as idea is not. The idea of plain empirical thruth seems undermined by manipulated priority mechanisms inaccessible to any normal user.  The idea of trust and transparency seems to me incompatible with the long run use of search engines as Google. We need  EU regulation. Maybe an idea for TTIP?


The possible manipulative power of search engines is overwhelming

This morning I experienced that a Danish Local Government had paid Google a small amount of money to avoid negative search results pointing at mismanagement of social acts including children abuse and pedophilia.  The news article in Danish can be read here. To me it is more than a morning news – rather a fundamental change of my worldview.

New added text: It seems to be tha case that Google has not received money. The factual case is that some consultancy has buried bad news by SEO: In this context, I do not see this changes much.  In my point of view, the conclusion stands.

“We did not appreciate the typical search result pointing at these negative sides of our municipality”, was the official answer.

I hope that the challenges of bias connected to algorithms and the filter bubble problem are already known. It is now five years ago that El Pariser presented his widely spread TED Talk.

Maybe the American way of supporting free enterprise differs substantially from European thinking. In Europe and namely Scandinavia this kind of action seems unthinkable. If  we had public and not private search engines this would have been illegal and seen as bribery.

As now experienced I can see it is not. The reason is that Google is a free enterprise. Search Engine activities are only in special respects  regulated by law.  First of all, this is about “The Right to be Forgotten“.

We knew that search results are always biased in favour of reinforcing the individuals own prejudices. We also recognise that some   the algorithms are under steady refinement in pursuing profit maximation profiling the users without any consent nor transparency.

The new dimension at least to me is that is easily done to having changed the seo result at Google simply by paying for that. In this way, it is possible for any political authority to change the order of a general seo-based sorting. Result: the bad cases are eliminated from the first pages.

This can never serve the trust in authorities. We would rather say Good Bye to such bias than letting Public Authorities buy bias.  In the long run, it might reduce Google’s own saliency.  According to me, we cannot wait for that.

The Press

As search engine usage is the primary source of finding knew knowledge for everyone including the public service of the press we now know that this is a new dimension of bias. We can suspect editors both in Denmark and elsewhere for sorting pieces of informations after other criteria than just relevance and actuality. Thet may represent a political or economical interest and normally we can compensate for this because it at least is into some high degree possible to stay informed about this.

A new source of undermining the trust in press is opened. Any reporter or journalist depends on search engines. Now, we must realize that we have to find leads somewhere in the middle of the pages. What is set up from page one should be mistrusted.

However, I am also lazy. Just like other people. So: I cannot even trust myself nor the press. We are being constantly mislead by Google. In my legal terms, Google must be characterized  generally disqualified by incompetence [inhabilitet]. Why? Because we know that Google steadily and consequently serves an irrelevant interest.  As abuse of power this can be seen as illegal.

Regulation or ownership?

Until this very day i never imagined it necessary to propose a legal action for search engines. So my point of view the political choice must be to secure a higher degree of trust in search engines than possible according to the business models of Google or  Yahoo. That means that the degree of regulation will have to deal with  machinery itself.  Algorithms, priorities, privacy, obsolescence and so forth.  All of it should be turned into transparency to the user and the public.

In the very long run search engines should be driven by the public.

We desparately need regulation.  Maybe a matter for TTIP?

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